Lucian Freud - Big Sue - Bowery - Bella Freud - Esther Freud - Clement Freud
Tate Britain

It was a huge pleasure to go to the Tate Britain for “Lucian Freud” and to follow the exhibition with the Museum’s tape recorder attachment in my ears. And to hear the seductive charming voice of the MAN HIMSELF talking to me alone – almost as if he was accompanying me around the exhibition.  I loved it!  Freud is the greatest British painter alive today.  In fact, in the world’s best selling art book of all time, Sir Ernest Gombrich, author of The Story of Art, put Lucian Freud among the artists who will stand the test of time.  And this largest retrospective is to celebrate his 80 years, more than 60 years in painting, from his first picture Box of Apples at age 16, which he has updated for his exhibition.  Paintings done in Wales, in his Paddington studio, then Holland Park and Kensington total more that 150 works of paintings, drawings, and etchings that began before the Second World War. He is considered to be the most powerful figurative painter in Britain.  From the newspaper: “Oblivious to the shifting fashions around him and indifferent to each latest ‘ism’ to nudge its way on the scene, he has kept his eyes focused on flesh and blood.  His sharp, spiky, watchful and disconcertingly penetrating gaze has monitored and exposed every nuance if the human form, from pale skin stretched taut across a pelvis’s gaunt jut, to the over spilling adipose lumps of models who lie in mounds like gently heaving mountains”.  The Times saw him as an “Heir to Titan…the first true master on sensuality of flesh…the defiant honesty of Rembrandt, Corbet’s conquest of shame, Renior’s adoration of human body and his youth today.” 

A decade ago he had a small-scale exhibition at Tate Liverpool and another at the Whitechapel Art Gallery and now this one, which has been selected by the critic William Feaver.  He still paints in the morning as well as in the night.  His first priority is PAINTING and he says: “I don’t know how much time I have left, and I am full of aches and pains, so I want to paint as much as possible.  I’d like, ideally, to die in the studio, with my brush in hand.  And I never see anyone, or go anywhere.”  And then he goes on “I feel exposed, and I am surprised that the French call it ‘exposition’.  I’m not a very bad tempered person, but I do feel more jumpy than usual.  I’d like to think I could rise above it, but the very fact that I’m thinking about it all is probably significant.”  He continues, “The ones I think are the most courageous and truth-telling, they come increasingly from early on.  You have to know what the truth is before you can tell it.”  He also said, “I never pose anyone, they move around and I say: ‘Will you relax a bit more?’ In this instance the model slept very easily, but no position is that comfortable.” 

I don’t find his paintings cold but rather I find them calm.  When you hear his voice it is a very calm, charming voice and he says, “Quite a lot of different expressions – it is not one look.  I always want to try and do something that gives out different feelings.”  The “truth-telling” of his paintings.  “All this promotional stuff about what a great artist I am.  The public can make up their own minds about that, when they see the exhibition.  The work should speak for itself”.  He paints the scene outside his windows – the gardens, other buildings, debris, etc.  Paintings of his naked children, his lovers, two wives and friends also his mother to which he was very close.  He used to keep an eye on her, visit her each day and paint her.  He specialises in painting the human figure, and there is a confrontation with each of his models.  Like Pablo Picasso’s portrayal of wives and mistresses there are more paintings of women in the exhibition, some even grotesque and cruel, the human condition, animal and spiritual but they are all beautiful.  Last year in Berlin he offered £100,000 to bring back Bacon for his exhibition at the Tate. His portrait of Bacon is the size of a post-card, (several of his works are smaller than you think) and was stolen whilst on exhibition in Berlin, his birthplace.  It was stolen in 1988 while on loan for an exhibition at the city’s Neue National Gallery.  This portrait marked the friendship between the two artists; they became friends in the 40’s and Freud painted his portrait in 1951, soon after Bacon had painted him.  The portrait was bought by Tate in 1952.  It is one of the very few portraits of Bacon.  Lucian made a personal plea: “Would the person who holds the painting kindly consider allowing me to show it in my exhibition at the Tate next June?”  The campaign was possible thanks to the anonymous private donor of £100,000 and to the Tate. So, 2,500 posters were distributed throughout Berlin.  The poster with the reproduction of the portrait with at big ‘WANTED’ on the top said, “For information that could lead to the recovery of this small picture, a reward of up to 300,000 Deutschmarks is offered.  Please submit information, which can be handled in confidence, to this number…” 

My friend Carlos Freire ( ), the photographer, has a beautiful exhibition of Francis Bacon and his famous studio.  Tom Phillips writes,  “His hallucinatory images of faces and figures seemed to have been painted pore by pore and thread by thread.  Pictures of lovers and artist friends, specimens under his searing gaze, could already be seen in the Tate Gallery.”  The woman that has been interviewed and photographed all over the newspapers is Big Sue, the biggest muse in British art.  She has been sitting for “The Master”, she is now 45 years old; her large body mass becomes splendidly monumental in naked sleep.  This year her image had been on Sam Taylor Wood’s Haywards exhibition and now at Tate Britain.  Big Sue’s biography of Bowery –another famous man in Freud’s paintings, a gay transvestite famous in Soho who died of AIDS – has turned into a Hollywood film.  And her character is also in the West End Theatre, in the production of ‘Taboo’, the autobiography of Boy George.  (the other day I saw photos of Boy George minus the make-up and his famous trademark hat, he was bald and looked just like any other man in the street!!)  Big Sue is manager of Charing Cross job Centre in the middle of Soho.  She is very famous and appeared in Will Young’s video (winner if Pop Idol TV show) in the song The Doors “Light My Fire”. In the video along with Boy George she plays a prostitute.  She says, “I have always been drawn to sleaze.  I like people who are charismatic and arrogant. People who make me nervous.  I like the freedom of not knowing what’s going to happen next.”  She also thinks that Freud chose her because of her ordinariness and when she was posing for him she tried to get into a position that she could fall asleep without him noticing, there are two painting of her in the exhibition and you can see that she is asleep.  She says, “ They are not the most flattering – but I like them.  So many people will look at the pictures in hundreds of years and I don’t have any children, so this is my way of carrying on. Lucian is fascinating.  We would talk about everything.  He knows so much and has been alive so long.  I first met Lucian in a nightclub and his main comment was that my lipstick colour didn’t suit the colour of my face.  He’s so sensitive to colour.  He took me to lunch and old me lots of jokes.  Then about a year later he said to Leigh (Bowery), ‘Bring her to the studio – I’ll use her.’”  Freud says, “I paint people not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be.”  While posing for “The Master”, he bought her a sofa for the sitting; he made Sue Tilley, “Big Sue” immortal. 

The other people that caught my eye in the exhibition are the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire’s portrait.  They also own 12 works by Freud.  And they are personal friends of his.  The Duchess first sat for him when she was 34 and she said, “He painted me as I am now, 82.  Extraordinary.”  She is the youngest of the famous Mitford sisters; I am fascinated by their story. They were all beauties.  The Duke’s last purchase from Freud was Large Interior W9 bought in 1974 for £100,000.  Now the painting is valued at more than £2 million.  They used to own Small Fern, 1967 but it was given to Prince Charles on his 50th birthday.  Later the Prince suggested that he and Freud swap paintings, but Freud declined the offer!!  It is an intriguing presence in life as well as art. 

He has painted Francis Bacon and Frank Auebach, 72, and he has painted David Hockney who is in his 60’s.  He hates to be called a portrait painter.  As regards the portrait of the Queen that is hanging in the new open gallery in Buckingham Palace (done to celebrate her golden Jubilee), it is a dramatic painting that most people don’t understand.  I, however, found it very profound and realistic with her crown and her face showing responsibility and the many cares if Monarchy – she has always put duty first.  Another sitter that got my attention is the late Baron Thyssem.  He owned the greatest art collection in private hands.  He had two portraits by Freud the first one in July 1981.  Freud said of Baron, “I got fond of him, his angular, funny behaviour.”  The second time one goes much deeper.  But Carmen “Tita” Carvera, the fifth Baroness, didn’t like the picture and she said, “There’s a rat in those rags.”  I looked and looked and there is one! You can always see something once someone points it out.  Then you can’t stop seeing it.  Man in a Chair, 1983-1985 was painted over two years, a penetrating portrait of the Baron sitting in a velvet chair next to some rags, is jacket buttoned up, flexed like clawed feet. 

It was terribly chic of Lucian not to come to the opening night of his exhibition at the Tate Britain.  The cocktail party was a huge success – a hot ticket party.  John Malkovich said, “I’d like to come back and see the show when nobody is here.”  Jerry Hall, who sat for Freud during her last pregnancy, was there.  She said, “It was the last month of my pregnancy and I was getting fatter all the time.  Sitting for Lucian was an experience. It was really interesting. We talked much about art.  He is my favourite painter – and I bought the picture.”  Jerry Hall was accompanied by her boyfriend, banker Tim Attias.  Just before the exhibition came to a close Freud finished his portrait of model, Kate Moss.  Like Jerry Hall, she also posed for him during her pregnancy.

 Freud’s daughters – the designer Bella and the novelist Esther – have been portrayed by their father many times.  They were also at the party.  Baby on a Green Sofa, was bought by the Duchess of Devonshire.  But even before Bella was born and was still a ‘bump’ in her mothers stomach, her father painted her, hence Pregnant Girl 1960-61.  Instead of having a photo album as other people do, the family album consists of paintings telling the life of their family.  Bella began working for Viviene Westwood.  She calls her father, “Dad”.  She says of “Dad”, “We talk a lot.  He talks.  He has an amazing memory for poetry and he has met people that I find very interesting, Picasso, Coctesu and so on.  I get many ideas from him for my work.  But it’s also a kind of standstill in time.  No matter what’s going on in my life, how overwrought I’ve been about things, I leave it all at the door to his studio.  It doesn’t work unless you dedicate yourself to it completely. 

In normal life there are so many ways for people to interface or meddle or interrupt our time, but you know that with Lucian it’s going to be quiet and undisturbed because that’s how he’s arranged it.”  She has put two of her father’s etchings on t-shirts to be sold at the Tate – the first of Pluto the second a bathroom scene with the words “I Miss You”.  She did a new film with John Malkovich Hideous Man.  This is the third film they have done together – Strap Hanging, 1999, about a Japanese boy, a pair of inflatable underpants, and a tube carriage full of alluring models.  Then Lady Behave, 2000, about a finishing school for wayward young women.  They were made to display Freud’s cloths, as she doesn’t feel happy with a normal catwalk show.  The film will be shown during the shows in London, Paris, New York and Milan.  And she says, “We can’t stop there, we’ve got to go on, after the second film was finished.  And after the third?  Malkovich has already wondered aloud about making a feature film.  Maybe that’s it, with this one I thought, it’s the third, maybe it’s the end of an era.  But now I hope it isn’t.  This is not the end.” 

Lucian’s girlfriend, Emily Bearn, the last in his long line of lovers, is 27 years old, which is younger than his granddaughters.  They call their relationship not so much May-September but January-December.  He has painted her.  The result of these sittings is a near life-sized portrait, naked, and is part of the Tate Britain exhibition and he also purchased her a new flat nearby, not bad for a 27-year-old.  (As the saying goes “Better to be an old man’s darling than a young man’s slave.”)  Emily is a journalist and was working at the Sunday Telegraph.  At a certain point she became strange and left her place at the newspaper.  One of her ex-colleagues said, “She started going very, very, very weird.  She said that she couldn’t talk about it, but she simply couldn’t be in the office anymore.”  Quoting from ES, “With the names of two wives and an unquantifiable number of mistresses notched on his easel, the twinkly-eyed and whippet-thin Lucian Freud is no slouch when it comes to seduction.  Admitting to seven children, he is reported to have sired up to 30 more.  His portraits can take as long as six months to produce: a long time for a snake-hipped young woman to be lounging around suggestively in the buff, full to the gills with bubbly and woodcock.” 

Lucian Michael Freud was born on December 8, 1922 in Berlin.  His father, architect Ernest Freud was the youngest son of six children of Sigmund Freud.  The family first moved from Vienna to Berlin, then they moved to England in 1933, when the Nazis took over.  In 1939 he became a British citizen.  Lucian Freud’s first personal exhibition started in 1944.  Lucian has two brothers Stephen (who sells doorknobs) and Clement.  Sigmund also moved to London in 1938 to a house in Hampstead where there is the Freud Museum open to the public with the famous couch.  John Cleese, a comedian, has been invited to unveil a second porcelain plaque, marking the work of Sigmund, replacing the ‘temporary’ metal one that had been in place since 1956 after the permanent one arrived with a spelling mistake.  In this museum you can see a film with Stephen and Lucian embracing Sigmund, at which time Lucian was 15 years old.  I must confess that this family fascinates me and having the “Father of Psychoanalysis” as a descendant could be more of a dysfunction, but surprisingly Sigmund’s children and grandchildren are amazingly popular – they are everywhere. Esther in broadcasting, Emma and Matthew both in public relations and Matthew married Murdoch’s daughter, Elisabeth. 

Clement Freud caught my attention last year with his autobiographical book Freud Ego, a right name for his grandfather Sigmund.  “Well, I am not bored with talking about him because I never talk about him much.  I haven’t read anything he’s written.” he said about his grandfather.   He goes on, “Well, it wasn’t a case of ‘Take that book away!  I won’t have it in my house’, I’ve read a couple of biographies, BUT I’VE NEVER MET ANYBODY WHO HAS BEEN CURED BY PSYCHOANALYSIS. HAVE YOU?”  (God, I would love to tell this to my friends from America and Brazil that have spent so much money on psychoanalysis for years.)  Coming from a direct descent of Sigmund Freud it sounds like a joke.  He never tired analysis and says, “On the contrary I would run a mile. In any case, I am extremely happy. I can’t really think of a situation.  I mean, you would have to have a huge respect for someone, wouldn’t you?  Or a minimum respect for yourself, to seek help.”  Clement made a lot of money as a nightclub owner, journalist, and TV personality and also as a Liberal MP between 1973 and 1987.  Clement and Lucian have an old problem and haven’t talked to one another since 1955.  Clement says of his brother, “I loved Lucian without liking him and there really came a point when the love was too painful and the dislike was sufficient to say it really would be more sensible to end the relationship.”  And about the other brother, Stephen, he says, “We aren't very close.  Mind you, I’m very intent that my children get on well with each other.  I would hate to have that sort of thing repeated in which my children didn’t talk to each other.”  He has 5 children (one adopted nephew) and 14 grandchildren.  He married the actress Jill Raymond who runs two theatres companies in Suffok.  They have an “open marriage”. 

When she was 47 she had an affair with a friend’s son that was 16 and the boy has written a book about it called Self Abuse.  Clement’s parents Ernest and Lucie didn’t go to his church wedding in 1950.  He said, “They were asked to come, but chose, as atheists, not to attend.”  He was in the States when his father died in 1970.  His mother never told him how or where he was buried, but Lucian knew.  Clement says, “My mother took an overdose.  She was in St. John Elizabeth Hospital for 4 or 5 months.  She ever opened a conversation after that.  She sat, and if you asked her a question she gave you a negative answer.  So I don’t know where my father was buried.  After she came out of the hospital, she just sat in the St, John’s Wood house, where we lived, and played solitaire.”  Lucian looked after her.  He picked her up everyday and he painted hundreds of pictures of her.  His mother died at age 93, which was another mystery.  He says, “She disappeared.  There was no funeral, no service.”  He also says, “There is a book, one of many books about the Freud family, and this is wholly reported, in which my Aunt Anna wrote to me saying ‘How sad that Ernst and Lucie aren’t together anymore’.  And that would be just about the time that Lucian was convinced.  So it is possible –Lucian thought it was wholly bogus…I wouldn’t write about it, because Lucian would sue you. But there was a special relationship between Lucian and my mother.”

Now at 77 Clement still doesn’t think of reconciliation, saying, “No, it has never occurred to me.  Lucian’s fallen out with Francis Bacon…Virtually all the people who were close to him.  Forgiveness.  I’m not great at forgiving.  If I decide that I don’t like someone, that is it.”  Clement loves table tennis and was never beaten at it by any of his children.  He stopped playing with Matthew in case he beat him.  Oh my god, this man hates therapy. 

The thing that fascinates me is the way Lucian Freud charms his girls before he paints them in excruciating positions: a bottle of champagne and a plate of French-Fries that they eat with their fingers.  But when you arrive at his studio you get champagne too.  One of them said “He’s a great cook and he actually prepares something lovely to eat during the break, like lobster.”  I would love to sit for him but my beauty is to great, although my age is against me.  So I can do nothing, but I live and I hope that because of his love for the grotesque perhaps when I reach 75 and am beginning to look grotesque, I might be given a chance to sit for him and be hung in a museum forever.  I’ll provide the lunch and champagne and I don’t require a flat!!!

Verinha Ottoni.


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